Easter, faith, liturgical year, Uncategorized

Easter Vigil

Untitled design-1

That first Easter was made in stillness…

in empty spaces where a scattered people once gathered

in uncertainty, unknowing, and unprepared how-in-the-world-did-we-get-here unsureness.

And this one is made in keeping each other company within the silence of our hearts as we go through the motions we can while mourning the ones we can’t.


That first Easter was made in darkness…

in stumbling together on the way to a tomb that contained everything they thought they’d been living for.

And this one is made in walking together-while-apart, virtual companions on a path we can’t even see yet.


That first Easter was made in grief…

in crushing sadness over what was lost and with no idea how anything could ever be the same again.

And this one is made in admitting that no, things are not the same…

but also in reminding each other that in these parallel Easter stories, we have the advantage.

We know already how this Story will end.


My friend says, “It’s the Lentiest Lent that ever lented.” I repeat her words in the kitchen and wonder aloud––what’s Easter if your cross is just as heavy when you wake up Sunday morning as it was on Friday afternoon?

My husband, still quick with a sermon title after all these years, reminds me: not all Easter Alleluias come easily. The first ones certainly didn’t. But Alleluia, anyway.


Christ isn’t in that tomb, or in any other one––

except as the One who never lets Death have the last word.

Where he is present isn’t in the stillness of defeat––

except to whisper, “This isn’t over yet.”


Some Easters are made of Alleluias borne on golden, soaring chords toward heaven, carried by the singing of children and the scent of lilies, effortless, effervescent.

This one is made of Alleluias murmured through tears, pressed out from between clenched teeth, spoken with a full knowledge of what we’ve lost but without knowing just how much more we’ve got to let go.

Some Alleluias are hard-fought.


Yes, it’s the Lentiest Lent we’ve ever lived. And when the first morning light begins to shift the sky from black toward grey this Easter, our penances won’t all dissolve

our sorrow won’t evaporate with the night

our losses won’t be magically restored as the sun rises.


He is still risen.

We are still His Body––fingers, eyes, ears––all still connected whether we feel it or not.

This, this moment, is where our faith defines us.

This moment––this very one––is what faith is for.

We have faith. And it is enough to sustain us.

We are still an Easter people.

He is risen, indeed.

Alleluia, anyway.


liturgical year, reflection, yes

on the Annunciation

Artwork from pen&paint via Catholic Family Crate. Icon from the inimitable Nancy O (emmanuel_studio on Instagram)

There’s a certain sameness to days right now that has me constantly checking the calendar or my phone or my watch to remind myself what day it is. I’ve been as much as two days off, even during the same day…the proverbial woman/mom/grad student who checks the calendar for the date and immediately forgets what day it is.

(If there’s not a proverb about that person, there should be.)

I’ve written so many words here about the ordinariness of my life and the beauty I see in it. Sometimes I have to look really hard into the corners to find that beauty, but I can always find it if I look hard enough. Lately, though, things seem to be spreading out into a shallow grey puddle…the kind of grey that reflects a grey sky and becomes even more grey because of it. The things that made Thursday, Thursday or Sunday, Sunday are no longer there. It all feels like the same day to me.

This isn’t necessarily alarming yet, although it could be if it goes on for too long. So I’m doing the things I know will help me keep moving forward. I’m going to bed on time. I’m getting up on time. I’m praying the Liturgy of the Hours (which helps some with distinguishing the days, since I have to find the right pages). I’m upping my water intake. I’m taking a walk outside once a day, no matter the weather. I’m listening to lots of music. I’m trying to focus on what I have, on the people in front of me, instead of what I’ve lost and the people I can’t see right now.

The irony of becoming a stay-at-home online student of theology again after having moved across the country to study in person is probably worth its own blog post. In a short time, I’ve found a little community of kindred spirits at the School of Theology, lingering over lunch and having Big Conversations about Important Things, delighting in shared discovery and mutual growth and the thrill of accompanying each other as we brush up against the mysteries of the universe.

Now, my communicating with these same amazing people has collapsed to text-length phrases punctuated by emojis, and I can’t find the exact circular yellow facial expression I need to convey how I feel about it. After half a semester of feeling more like myself than I have in a long time (maybe ever), I’m back to typing out responses in boxes to online discussion posts at my kitchen table while my kids throw their opposing armies at each other in a RISK-related squabble over whether that die was a three or a six when it landed.

It could feel like a huge mistake. What was I thinking, moving everyone out here away from our families and support system, away from our community and our friends and “my” organ and the familiar mountains and running trails I loved? No, I couldn’t have predicted a pandemic. But what kind of responsible adult changes everything about her life to pursue a long-deferred dream over a thousand miles from home?

This one does, apparently.

But how can I complain about this? This is my kitchen table, and we have a window-filled kitchen to sit in. I’m still studying the thing that makes my heart beat faster. George is working from home, which he couldn’t have done before. This house even has a downstairs, so the fallout from the RISK-related conflict is more contained than it would have been in Virginia.

I’m not here because I made One Spectacularly Bad Decision. I’m here because we said “yes,” not one time or three times, but hundreds of little times that led us down this path.

During Lent, George and I have been reading a Psalm each day and using it for lectio divina, a contemplative practice of praying with the text by reading the words slowly and intentionally to see what emerges. Today, my Psalm was the twenty-third. I actually rolled my eyes. Blah, blah, blah – still waters, cup runneth over, we’ve heard all of this before.

The thing about the Psalms, though, is that they are a living conversation with the Divine. The Psalmist speaks to God, and God speaks back. And when I read those Psalms from my heart, I make their words my own, and God speaks back to me, too.

Today, the twenty-third Psalm is all about right paths for me.

Today, I’m choosing to see that all those little yeses of the last ten or twenty years that led to the bigger yeses of the last year and a half were not a mistake. God is leading me in right paths. He has brought us this far. He will not abandon us.

That’s the miracle of the Incarnation at work in my little life today. God entered the world––a world that was not less messed up than our own, a world full of suffering and struggle and boredom and hunger and injustice and sorrow. God showed up there in human skin––not to wave a magic wand and make all the problems go away, but to be there with us in the middle of them.

This is the God we believe in––the One who occupies the same space we do just because He wants to be with us. The One who is here whether we choose to acknowledge that presence or not. Not one who is aloof, or judging our behavior, or standing to the side waiting to see what we’re going to do with this mess we’re in…but one who waded down into it on purpose to be where we are.

It’s like the opposite of social distancing, really.

So as we figure out how to be community for each other in this complicated and confusing time when we can’t sit around the same table and ponder the mysteries of the universe, I’m feeling thankful for this one Big Mystery made known in the angel’s message to Mary so long ago.

God is with us. And we really need Him right now.

I can’t be anything but grateful.


feasts and seasons, liturgical year

Feasting on new traditions…{book giveaway}

Things just smell better this time of year- have you noticed that? It isn’t just at home, either…the whole world smells like snow and cinnamon and tinsel. As we travel back and forth, traversing interstates and country roads to visit family, even gas station bathrooms are nicer, somehow. Some combination of music and lights and cookies and hot chocolate (with or without the special grownup additions) seems to put almost everyone in a good mood.

I suspect that a big part of the reason we love this time of year is because of its traditions. We are designed for shared ritual, and during the “holiday season,” our culture experiences that like no other time of year. I’ve written before about my friend’s family, who says that if you do something once and really like it, it’s a tradition (and if you do it twice, you’re stuck with it whether you like it or not). During the Thanksgiving-Advent-Christmas season, there are so many special foods and activities that we do every year. Rituals and shared meals abound.

Choosing to live by the rhythm of the liturgical calendar gives us the opportunity to live with special traditions and foods all year long. There are feasts to be celebrated during each month of the year, not just in November and December. We get to expand our shared rituals and feasts to the rest of the months of the year, and there is always something to anticipate.

But how do we do that? How do we begin to explore all the feasts and traditions?

Haley and Daniel Stewart of Carrots for Michaelmas have created another resource to help us embrace the feasts of the liturgical year in a manageable way that is easy to implement. Their first book, Feast!, is a great introduction to observing the feasts and seasons of the church year. In their new book, More Feasts!, they expand this idea to include the whys and hows of celebrating the feasts of saints. The Stewarts write beautifully about how living liturgically can enrich both your spiritual and your family life. With 10 new delicious-looking (gluten-free) recipes, reflections and activities for families, More Feasts! makes me feel excited about the chance to create some new traditions with my family in the coming year.

I love that these books come from a home that is truly living out this rhythm in a creative, vibrant way. This is not a hypothetical guide. This is a real-life, tried and tested experience of one family who has found a way to make the rhythms of the church year an integral part of how they live out their faith as a domestic church.

You can get More Feasts! exclusively at Carrots for Michaelmas for $3.99 right now (plus an extra 25% off through December 15 with the code HAPPYFEAST). The original book, Feast!, is on sale for $4.99 during Advent (it’s usually $7.99).

Do I have to be Catholic? Aren’t these feast days a Catholic thing?

No way. The church year belongs to all Christians. The saints included in the book are saints in the  Catholic understanding, but their stories are worth reading no matter your faith background. Haley does a wonderful job of explaining this in the book. And besides, everyone needs a good sushi recipe.

I’m so overwhelmed by all of this. How will I be able to do it all?

You won’t. Don’t try. Just pick one or two feasts that appeal to you and try them out. As you develop traditions, your celebrations will grow and maybe increase in number. The important thing is to do what works best for you and your family.

Is there a print copy of the book? I don’t have an e-reader.

The first volume, Feast!, is available here in print for $21.99. Right now, More Feasts! is in e-book form only, but it’s a pdf file. You can download it right to your computer. No e-reader is needed.

The Stewarts have generously offered a copy of the new e-book to one of my readers. If you’d like to win, tell me about your family’s favorite tradition (any tradition!) in the comment box below. I’ll choose one winner randomly on Saturday.

Check out the other stops on the More Feasts! blog tour this week- everyone is excited about this book!

Fine print: the giveaway is open through 11:59 pm Eastern Standard Time on Friday, December 12. Winner will be chosen randomly by a drawing. This giveaway is open to all – no geographic restrictions, since we don’t have to mail anything!

baptism day, feasts and seasons, liturgical year, prayer

Celebrating Baptism Day

Last night, we celebrated the baptism day of our three children.

We meant to do this last year, but the day was sandwiched between Father’s Day and my birthday, so it came and went without much notice.

The desire to do more to strengthen our family’s prayer life and to follow the seasons of the liturgical year can feel like a stumbling block. If we get too caught up in the details of the various days and feasts we’d like to celebrate, we can get overwhelmed and end up doing nothing at all. The important thing about the cycle of the liturgical year (and about praying together as a family) is that it is a cycle. It repeats. We have chance after chance to try things out, see what works for us, and take notes for next year. Doing something to mark time and to notice the holy days that matter to our family is better than doing nothing, even if our celebrations end up being less than Pinterest-worthy.

This year, we decided a simple celebration was better than no celebration at all. Here’s what we did:

  • The children chose a special dinner.

Sam asked for cheeseburgers and tater tots (and achieved consensus with the Sisters), so that’s what we had.  I made a large chocolate chip cookie for dessert and decorated it with a white icing cross and the children’s initials. The (store-bought) icing immediately ran everywhere. I did not photograph this for you, so you’ll have to take my word for it. The cookie was delicious- no one complained about the runny decorating job.

  • We pulled out their baptismal candles and lit them one at a time. George read the baptismal promises to each child. Each one answered the questions seriously- Sam with a quiet “yes,” Lucy with an emphatic “I do!” and Nora with a forceful nod of her head.


We found a small liturgy for this purpose here. It was fun to hear them gleefully renouncing Satan and all his empty promises. I enjoyed seeing how much they have changed since they were baptized…on that day, we answered the questions on their behalf, and now they can speak for themselves. I know they don’t fully understand everything now (do any of us, really?), but they recognized the phrases we say in the Creed each week during Mass. It felt good to see how their understanding has grown in just two short years…like we’re doing some things right. After the day we’d had around here, this was a wonderful moment for me as a parent.

  • We blessed each child with some of our Easter holy water by making a cross on his or her forehead.

  • We read a special prayer together as a family to close our celebration.  

Blessed are you, Loving Father, Ruler of the Universe. 

You have given us your Son,

And have made us temples of your Holy Spirit.

Fill our family with your light and peace.

Have mercy on all who suffer,

And bring us to everlasting joy with you, Father.

We bless your name forever and ever. Amen.

The prayer is a traditional family prayer and is included in our children’s Bible (we have this one, which contains some prayers, notes from the Catechism and other suggestions for incorporating liturgy at home). I hadn’t seen this prayer before. Lucy found it yesterday and liked the accompanying picture so much that she asked me to read it to her several times. It fit perfectly with our little service of celebration.

Afterward, we looked at pictures from the day of the children’s baptism. I never managed to get any of those pictures printed. As we crowded around the screen of the iPad trying to see them, we decided we should make a photo book so the kids could look at them more often. They all enjoyed seeing the much younger versions of themselves (they change so quickly at this stage!), commenting on how Lucy had no hair and George still had some, and noticing the differences in the baptismal font, which our parish recently replaced with a new one.

A friend of mine has a family saying: “If you do something once and you like it, it’s a tradition. If you do it twice, it’s a tradition whether you like it or not.” Based on the giggles, smiles and warm feelings this evening, I think this particular tradition is one we’ll be intentionally keeping for a long time.

Do you celebrate baptismal days in your family? What traditions do you have for marking this occasion?

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you click on the link and make a purchase, a portion of your purchase supports this blog. Thanks for your support.

Advent, giveaway, liturgical year

The mad rush of Advent…?

So, Advent’s the new Christmas, right? I keep feeling like we have to get started early- we need to get a jump on shopping and decorating and baking and crafting so we can hurry up and wait for Jesus to be born in as unhurried a way as possible.

“Thanksgiving was late this year,” everyone keeps saying, and I hear from other friends who keep the church calendar at home that Advent has snuck up on them. One lovely friend (who shall remain anonymous for her own protection) has even been calling it “the A-word” and forbidding people to use it in polite conversation.

Don’t talk about it yet- we aren’t ready!

The whole “get ready for Advent” thing comes from a good place. We are making a real effort to recapture a season of preparation. We are trying to make space in our lives, hearts and homes so that we can welcome the newborn Christ when He comes. It’s a good thing.
I’m not sure, though, that the mad rush is ever a good thing. 
The idea that there is a looming deadline (December 1st this year! That was yesterday! Heaven help us!) after which we must be prepared is not helping me. It makes my chest feel tight. It makes me feel like going for a really long run or adding something more festive than flavored creamer to my coffee.

I need to remember that I am the one responsible for the climate in my home. I would like to cultivate a sense of peace during this season, of quiet wonder, of prayerful expectation. If I’m running around like a madwoman trying to find my candle snuffer so we can light the wreath (or, rather, so we can put it out with due reverence after it has been lit) and barking at my kids to hurry up and finish their Advent chains so we can hang those suckers up and start counting down until Christmas, how can I possibly be creating a climate of prayerful anything? 

I think some deep breaths might help. And maybe I will go for that long run, too.
Where we are is just where we are. Thankfully, God knows where that is and is perfectly capable of finding us and meeting us there. Advent is a season of preparation…a whole season to get ready! It is nice to have some things in order beforehand, but scrambling around in a dither to make everything ready before Advent even starts isn’t really good for anyone. 
How about you? Are you feeling rushed this year? Are you overwhelmed with the preparations for the season of preparation? Or are you propped up with peace in your heart and all your Christmas cards ready to send out?

We located our Advent wreath last night and put it up, and we lit it last night (although we haven’t yet found our copy of O Radiant Dawn: 5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath, our Advent devotional). We had to wing it. Sam took the first link off our Names of Jesus chain and read it along with the corresponding verse from the Bible. We read one of our favorite Advent/Christmas books (Who is Coming to Our House?) before bed. That was it.
Even though we aren’t ready for Christmas yet, we don’t need to be. I’m feeling some peace knowing that a simple, deliberate Advent will work for our family this year. Setting a gentle pace now means we will be able to sustain it. And by the time Christmas arrives, we will be ready.
And so will you…no matter how unprepared you feel today.

I’ll be rounding up some of my favorite Advent resources here and on Facebook in the coming days and weeks, so you can check back if you need inspiration for your own preparations. You’re warmly welcomed to join me in listening to our Advent playlist to help cultivate that sense of calm (and to avoid the Holly Jolly Sounds of Lite Ninety-Eight Point Whatever, if that kind of thing gets on your nerves).

Also, you have until midnight tonight to enter the giveaway to win a copy of Feast!, the new e-book by Haley and Daniel Stewart (which is bound to help you prepare for living along with the Church year in any season) or a copy of The Legend of Saint Nicholasby Demi (just in time for the feast of St. Nicholas this coming Friday!).

Don’t forget to leave a note about your favorite Advent tradition on the Surviving Our Blessings Facebook page to enter. We will announce the winners tomorrow here and on Facebook.

Blessings during this first week of Advent. May you find exactly what you need to help you prepare your heart and your home for the coming Light of Christ.

*This post contains some Amazon affiliate links. If you click on them and end up buying something, your purchase will help support Surviving Our Blessings. If you like that idea, there’s also an ad in the sidebar that you can click through when you purchase from Amazon. This blog will receive a tiny percentage of any purchases you make. Thanks for your support!*


Advent, giveaway, liturgical year

Good news for everyone (especially the liturgically-minded)

If you have been thinking about being more intentional about Advent this year…
…if you’re curious about the church calendar and how it works…
…if you might want to celebrate a feast day here and there…
…if you have a sneaking suspicion that there’s more to celebrate than just Christmas and Easter…

I have great news for you!

Part The First:

My friend Sarah over at Two O’s Plus More has put together a lovely post with some ideas about how to begin observing the church year in your home. If you have been thinking about starting to do this, Sarah can help. She has helpful suggestions about how to move gradually into following the church calendar.

Also, Sarah is giving away a copy of A Continual Feast: A Cookbook to Celebrate the Joys of Family and Faith Throughout the Christian Year, by Evelyn Birge Vitz. (This post contains Amazon affiliate links, fyi. You’ll know them because of the big old Amazon logos at the bottom, ok?)

This book is a good introduction to help you ease into celebrating bits and pieces of the church year without feeling like you are drowning in saints, martyrs and candle wax.

Part The Second: 

I’m doing a double book giveaway this week!

I have one copy of Feast! – a wonderful new e-book by my friend Haley of Carrots for Michaelmas– to give away. Haley and her husband, Daniel, have put together a collection of recipes and reflections for celebrating the liturgical year at home, complete with pictures, quotes, prayers and ideas. It doesn’t end there, though. They’ve written a thoughtful and non-threatening introduction to the church year, inspired partly by their first encounters with it at their Baptist college in East Texas when neither of them was Catholic. The book is practical, realistic for busy families with little kids (since Haley and Daniel have three kids under 5), and down to earth. As a bonus, all the recipes can be prepared gluten-free. It is amazing work, y’all. (And you don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate it.)

The book is 40% off this week (until Thanksgiving)- you can get your own copy for $4.99. The price will go up after that (as it should- this is a really fantastic book!). The food pictures alone are worth the price. (They say they aren’t photographers, but the photos make my stomach growl.) Plus, there’s an adorable picture of their son with kohlrabi. What’s not to love?

Haley has generously offered a copy of her book for one of you, because she’s fantastic. Like her book.

My second giveaway book is for St. Nicholas Day, which is coming up next week (so soon, can you believe it?) on December 6. I have one copy of my very favorite St. Nicholas book, The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Demi to send to one of my lovely readers.


The art in this book is magnificent. Even if you don’t celebrate St. Nicholas Day separately from Christmas, this book is one you will want to add to your collection. (Also, you should consider celebrating St. Nicholas on his own day…it’s so much fun! At least, it is if you don’t do it like I did last year.)

To enter, please leave a comment on the Surviving Our Blessings Facebook page with your favorite Advent tradition (or one you’d like to start, if you haven’t done so yet). If you are not on Facebook and still would like to enter, leave your comment here and I’ll transfer it over for you. Two lucky winners will each receive one of the books. I wish I had enough copies for everyone.

Fine print: The winners will be randomly chosen on December 2 by one of my darling children from a basket of slips of paper. (We are fans of the old ways around here.) The e-book is a worldwide giveaway- anyone can win!- but the St. Nicholas book winner needs to be a US resident for postage reasons. 

I hope you win! 🙂

Look for more posts in the coming days on Advent and what we’re doing to get ready. In the meantime, tell me…how are you feeling about December’s quick approach? Are you charging ahead? Are you wishing you could put on the brakes? Are you somewhere in between?

activities, feasts and seasons, little holydays, liturgical year, projects, recipe, saint celebrations

Feast of St. Brigid

St. Brigid was a 5th century nun who founded the monastery at Kildare in Ireland. Born to a mother who was a slave in a Druid household, she was named for the Celtic goddess of fire and is the patron of the hearth and the domestic arts. (She is also the patron of County Kildare, for obvious reasons.) Many of the stories about her are about her bringing warmth and light, so it is fitting that February 1st is her feast day…the first day of spring in the old Celtic calendar.

When we visited Ireland, George and I picked up a St. Brigid’s cross to bring back with us for our Christmas tree. It has been our tradition to find Christmas ornaments everywhere we travel and reminisce about our trips as we decorate the tree each year. I learned today that many people in Ireland make St. Brigid’s crosses on her feast day and place them near the hearth or stove (or sometimes, on the front door of the house).

Since we had already put away our St. Brigid’s cross with the other ornaments (are you impressed that our tree and ornaments are put away?), SuperSam and I decided to make our own St. Brigid’s cross to celebrate her feast today. They are traditionally made from straw or reeds. We followed this great tutorial from Catholic Icing and made ours from pipe cleaners. It was very kid-friendly, even for a preschool-aged boy with a short attention span for such things. (He pretended the pipe cleaners were eating each other, complete with “nom nom nom” sound effects.) It only took us about 20 minutes, and we ended up with two very colorful crosses to show for our efforts.

For dinner, we used this recipe for a chickpea soup from Carrots for Michaelmas. It was simple and tasty. Best of all, it was ready in an hour…the same amount of time it took to make this easy Irish Soda Bread. For dessert, I cut up some apples and topped them with oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and walnuts and baked them at the same time as the soda bread. It was simple, quick food, but it felt totally worthy of a feast.

The way this week has gone, I feel in serious need of a patron of the domestic arts, so I put my St. Brigid’s cross in the kitchen window. At the very least, the bright colors will perk me up first thing in the morning before the day gets going while I’m waiting on the coffee to finish brewing.

For another make-your-own-St. Brigid’s cross tutorial, try here. And check out Sarah’s post on how her family celebrated St. Brigid’s Day at two Os plus more. For a devotional resource on the saints (neither strictly Catholic nor strictly biographical, but with some ideas for prayer practices included), try Tom Cowan’s The Way of the Saints: Prayers, Practices, and Meditations. It’s not comprehensive, by far, but he writes about ways to honor some of the saints and apply their lessons in daily life. We enjoy having it as one resource in our library. (Yes, that is an Amazon affiliate link back there, just to be clear.)

blessing, Epiphany, feasts and seasons, liturgical year, prayer, tradition

Bless This House

Today is Epiphany Sunday, a day on which Christians celebrate the coming of the Magi (or the Kings, or the Wise Men, depending on your tradition) to visit Baby Jesus and bring him gifts.

As the story goes, there were Three Kings from “The East.” (The Biblical narrative never specifies how many there were, but tradition says three.) They were astrologers who noticed the presence of a new star in the sky and headed out to find the new king that its appearance signified. SuperSam and his dad saw a planetarium show recently about the star, and he has been telling us ever since that “actually, it wasn’t a star, really, it was most likely Jupiter and Saturn in conjunction.”

Jupiter and Saturn in conjunction. Photo by SuperSam.

(Note to my friend Julia: he may end up with that space station chaplain job yet.)

Anyway, they saw the star, and they came (riding camels?) with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These have symbolic significance but seem like less-than-stellar baby gifts, if you ask me. (A friend of mine jokes that if the kings had been mothers themselves, they would have brought diapers and wipes.)

Many people exchange gifts on Epiphany as they remember the legendary gifts of the Kings. In some cultures, children are visited by the Kings, who leave them presents. It’s also customary to have a Three Kings cake, with a bean or other small object representing the Baby Jesus hidden inside before baking. (The person who finds the “baby” wins a prize.) Some friends of ours host a party each year on Epiphany at which they dispose of the greens from Christmas (trees, wreaths, etc.) with a big bonfire, serve hot spiced cider, and enjoy time with friends.

Epiphany wasn’t a big deal for us growing up. I think I was in high school before I learned that the Kings in the story of the Nativity didn’t show up at the same time as the shepherds and everyone else, right on Christmas Night. It has been fun to learn more about the many traditions associated with this day and choose which ones we would like to incorporate into our family’s celebration.

This year, we are doing a house blessing for Epiphany. This is an old custom dating back to the Middle Ages. Although today it is more familiar in some European countries than in the United States, I have seen many references to it recently. A friend of ours who is a pastor of two local congregations even posted a picture on facebook of the blessing he did at the volunteer fire department. We decided that blessing our house was a great way to start off the new year.

What’s the point of blessing our house? Well, we believe that God is present in all things. As I wrote earlier this Christmas season, the holy happens right in the middle of the mundane. Our home is the center of our life together. We are blessing our home to remind ourselves that the ordinary things that happen here are ways of expressing love, serving each other, and serving God. Asking God’s blessing on our home and family reminds us that we should keep Christ in the middle of all of it…the toddler tantrums, the piles of laundry, the meals we share at our table, the guests we receive, and the conversations we share. (And the sweeping, of course.) Blessing the house at Epiphany is especially appropriate. Since this feast celebrates the coming of the Light (and the star that the Kings followed to find Jesus), we ask the Light to fill our home and our hearts in the coming year so that we can share the Light with others around us.

The particular words used in a house blessing are not set in stone- you can borrow a blessing that has already been written or create your own. Traditionally, the blessing is said as you mark the lintels of your door with this inscription: 20 + C + M + B + 13. The 2013 is the year, which enfolds the initials of the traditional names of the Three Kings: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. (For a fun musical explanation about who each of these guys were, check out this song by the De Paur Singers. The video isn’t great, but you can’t beat the song.) The “CMB” also stands for the Latin phrase “Christus Mansionem Benedicat,” which means, “Christ Bless This House.”

Here is the blessing we used…we decided to combine some resources.

Leader: We ask your blessing upon this house. Fill it and each of us who live here with your light.
(Here, someone should write the inscription above the door.)
Other family member: Christus mansionem benedicat…may Christ bless this house.
Leader: May all who come to our home this year rejoice to find Christ living among us; and may we seek and serve, in everyone we meet, that same Jesus who is Lord, forever and ever. Amen. *
All together: Christ, in our coming and in our leaving, the Door and the Keeper; for us and our dear ones, this day and every day, blessing for always. Amen. **

We closed by marking the door with the sign of the cross.

If this practice is new to you, you might be interested to know that it is found in many different Christian traditions. (Read: This is not just for Catholics.) It seems to be more common in the “high church” traditions, but there’s no reason why any of you can’t bless a house for the new year if you want. Liturgy and ancient Christian practices belong to all Christians, regardless of denomination.

As we mark our door with this inscription this year, I am thinking of God commanding his people to mark their doorposts with the Shema Yisrael (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Michael K. Marsh, an Episcopal priest in West Texas who writes at Interrupting the Silence, mentions this in his blog (which, incidentally, makes me feel great for having thought of it!). He also says:

“Chalking the door” is a way to celebrate and literally mark the occasion of the Epiphany and God’s blessing of our lives and home. With time the chalk will fade. As it does we let the meaning of the symbols written sink into the depths of our heart and be manifest in our words and actions.

Blessing a house (or anything, really) is not superstitious. We don’t expect our chalk markings and spoken words to protect us from anything. Instead, it is a practice of setting our home (and our life inside it) apart for a special purpose. It’s a recognition of the truth that God is already here. It is a choice to be intentional about seeking Love by inviting its presence in our daily lives. Do you have to bless your house? Of course not. We choose to bless our home this year to remind ourselves and each other that God is in our midst, that the ordinary times and activities we share are sacred, and that we should treat each other as we would treat Christ.

Here are some resources about house blessings from around the internet, several with blessings that you can use if you don’t want to come up with your own words:

Epiphany House Blessing with chalk from Interrupting the Silence
Epiphany House Blessing from Catholic Icing
Blessing the Home on Epiphany from Catholic Culture
Epiphany Chalk House Blessing from Liturgy (an ecumenical resource)
Blessing of the Home and Household on Epiphany from US Conference of Catholic Bishops

Many people bless the chalk they use to write the inscription (to set it apart for this purpose) or ask their priest to do it for them. Apparently, this is more common in some communities than others. If you ask your priest to bless your chalk and he looks at you oddly, you can feel free to share this post with him.

Have you ever heard of this tradition? Do you observe it in your family? If you do, I’d love to know about other variations or ways of doing it…and if you decide to try it,  please let me know how it goes!


**from Celtic Daily Prayer: Prayers and Readings from the Northumbria Community (p. 150, Blessing At a Door) 
activities, Christmas, crafting, feasts and seasons, liturgical year, process art, projects, recycled materials, SuperSam

Christmas, ongoing…Recycled Paper Tube Nativity

Despite the growing number of Christmas trees lying in gutters across America (and a Cadbury egg display sighting by George this weekend at a local convenience store), Christmas is still in effect. Today’s the ninth day, and SuperSam and I finished up a project we started a couple of weeks ago.
Now that he’s discovered how much fun it can be to play with art materials and glue things together, SuperSam is kind of unstoppable. One of my favorite things is just to give him a pile of recycled stuff and say, “Hey, what do you think we could make with this?” and see what he does.
It was his idea to make a nativity scene out of paper tubes. I had been saving them for his rocket making, and when he asked for them, I assumed a string of rockets would soon appear. I was surprised when he suggested we make an angel instead. The angel turned out great, and then we were on a roll.
We worked together since hot glue was involved – he picked out all the pieces for each character, and I helped with the cutting and the assembly as needed. The pipe cleaner arms were entirely his idea- he said that Mary ought to have arms “so she can rock her baby in case he gets upset.” (I love that.) 
Yes, those are airplanes on the angel’s robe. And clouds. SuperSam definitely knew what he wanted in the costume department. (You can see how he got there, though.)
This isn’t one of those lovely tutorials about how you can make your own nativity out of cardboard tubes. Come on, you don’t need a tutorial. It’s easy and fun, and you should definitely do it – you have three whole days of Christmas left, so get busy!
We used toilet paper tubes or gift wrap tubes for most of the people, cutting them to appropriate lengths and adding pipe cleaner arms and clothes from scraps of fabric. We cut really small sections of tube for the sheep and covered them with quilt batting using Elmer’s glue. It was a sticky mess.
SuperSam did all the faces with magic marker. Most are smiling, and one king has a goatee. 
Baby Jesus is made from an empty spool I had been saving. He’s also purple…wait for it…”because he is the newborn king, and purple is the color of royalty.” My son, ladies and gentlemen…the liturgical sponge (who somehow managed to absorb something in church even though he was lying on the floor making drum machine noises during part of the homily).
Here is one of the kings bringing the baby a present. (Notice the sticky, half-bald sheep looking on…and Mary, for whom we emptied out the fabric scrap bag searching for the perfect piece of blue flannel.) 
After we completed the kings today, SuperSam played with the whole group for quite a while (until The Sisters got up from nap and threatened to eat some of the sheep). The kings ended up flying in from the end of the hallway on a spaceship “because we forgot to make some camels…we have, basically, none camels at this nativity”.
It was awesome.
cleaning, feasts and seasons, gratitude, Holy Family, liturgical year, parenting

Merry Christmas from the less-than-holy mother

The Holy Family at Table – Jan Mostaert
Merry Christmas! It is still Christmas, after all – the sixth day…and while I’m glad to report there are no geese a laying in my living room, I’m not sure the mess would be substantially bigger if there were. I’m still totally overwhelmed and wondering how I will ever get things in order. At least if there were geese, we could have had eggs for breakfast.
It’s the Feast of the Holy Family today, honoring Jesus, his mother Mary, and his earthly father, Joseph. Falling as it almost always does on the Sunday after Christmas, it seems to be a feast celebrating the ordinary right smack in the middle of the extraordinary – a recognition that Jesus became who He was in the context of an ordinary family, just like we do. He had people…parents, cousins, extended family…a context, roots, a center from which to grow and develop.
Looking around at my (unholy) family, I appreciate this feast. Jesus’ holiness grew up in the middle of the mundane…the same kind of domestic everyday that surrounds me. Dishes are stacked in the sink and bags are still packed with dirty clothes from our recent return from my parents’ house. Old and new toys cover every surface – they refuse to be contained – and both bathrooms need cleaning, even though we were gone all week. My eyes search for some space to rest, but I see piles of stuff every place I look. My entire family is suffering with the same stuffy nose and are slightly feverish, achy, and out of sorts. I’m tired and more than a little grumpy today despite two cups of coffee. Tomorrow’s the last day of the year, and it looks like might go out like it came in- as an ordinary, everyday mess.
I can’t remember another year of my life that seemed so much the same at the beginning and the end. Much of this year has passed in the doing of very ordinary things: washing and folding clothes, wiping little faces, sweeping, changing diapers, shopping for groceries, vacuuming floors, cooking and baking. My primary work has been tending to the needs of my family.
Have I grown at all? Is my attitude toward this vocation of mine any better? Am I any kinder, any fuller-of-grace?
I’m not sure. 
Growth often happens despite our best efforts, and I’m sure I’ve grown some. I confess, though, that my attitude is often crummy and that I grumble about the simple things that need to be done even as I’m doing them.
Fortunately, God is with me whether or not I’m particularly full of grace on any given day. And God can use what I have to offer, even if it’s not worth much on its own.
A year ago, I started this blog as a way to practice gratitude, as a way to share some of the struggles and the joys and the humor and the grace of living an everyday life. I’m grateful for each of you that has shared in any part of this last year with our family.
Along the way, I’ve encountered some amazing writers who have become company for me on the journey. One of them is Dwija Borobia, who writes at House Unseen about her own ordinary life (and cracks me up with laughter when I’m in danger of taking things too seriously). A couple of weeks ago, she described motherhood as her path to sanctification.

I think I’m on that path, too.
Motherhood seems to be made of little stuff…a string of ordinary tasks, words, and actions that add up to something much larger. The day-to-day seems insignificant, but the end result is extremely important. And I think it’s possible that God is using the littleness of motherhood to teach me big things. It is possible that making things clean, caring for little people and meeting basic needs, wiping noses and bottoms and faces is making me holy, little by little, whether I like it or not.
I am far from holy. But sacrificing little parts of myself every day in a series of small, seemingly insignificant acts of service to my family is moving me toward God…and every now and then, I’m even aware of becoming more beautiful in the process.
…God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work...Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!        
2 Corinthians 9:8-15